The Good Lie is a small film based on a very real and big story. It is an engaging film with some of this year’s best performances and characters. It is one of the few films released of late that is important for everyone to see. Released this past weekend and showing on a limited number of screens, I am hopeful with the strong critic reviews, the film will garner a larger presence in theaters across the globe. The story deserves such respect.
I did not expect to experience the deep emotional impact I felt as I watched The Good Lie. Familiar with the story of The Lost Boys I anticipated a retelling of the facts somewhat absent of a deep emotional connection due to the brutality experienced by these children. Thankfully, I was mistaken.
The Good Lie is a beautiful movie. Writer, Margaret Nagle, took its story from the pages of war torn Sudan. It is the inspiring story based on the journey of “The Lost Boys” who trekked over a thousand miles across Africa to save their lives. Sudan has been involved in a civil war fueled by religious, ethnic, and regional strife since the mid-1980s. Thousands of children experienced unfathomable horrors and unimaginable hardship. Their story is known as that of “The Lost Boys of Sudan” because they arrived on foot in Kenya without parents and were taken in to live at the Kakuma refugee camp, still in existence today.
The first half of the movie is filmed in Africa with the time period picking up sometime in the early 90’s. The opening scene depicts images of life in a Village of Sudan with parents caring for children, and children playing together. The village is attacked and the parents are killed. A few of the children, one as young as four years old, escape physical harm yet the emotional damage from the brutality they witnessed is evidenced on their faces.
The oldest in the group, Theo (Okwar Jale), remembers his father telling him, “If war reaches our tribe and you survive, take your brothers and sister and walk toward Ethiopia.” The children find the strength and resilience to begin this journey walking hundreds of miles on bare feet. Theo, as the oldest male survivor takes on the role of Chief. His younger brother, Mamere (Arnold Oceng), sister, Abital (Kuoth Wiel), two friends, Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul, and two younger children (Emmanuel Jal) form a tight family bond and set out on a lifesaving journey.
After weeks of walking through rough terrain, the two younger children succumb to death, ravished by the challenges of navigating difficult terrain and the near impossible outdoor elements. The group eventually meets up with women and children from other Sudan Villages also walking toward Ethiopia in search of safety and hope. Together, they reach the River Gilo where thousands of the women and children are attacked and shot by armed militia. Theo leads his sister, brother, and two friends safely to the other side of the river and reroutes their journey toward Kenya, as Ethiopia is no longer the safest option.
As they make their way across the dangerous and barren landscape they are met with many obstacles. The armed militia spot them resting amidst tall grass. Theo surrenders, sacrificing himself to save the rest of the group. Young Mamere is now the chief. After many months traveling on foot, hunting what food they eat, and surviving on limited water, they cross into the safety of Kenya arriving at the Kakuma Refugee Camp. The majority of the children who made it to the camp were between the ages of 8-18. Most did not know how old they were so the aid workers assigned them birthdates.
Finally, in 2001, recognizing the intolerable living conditions, the United States Government stepped in and brought 4,000 of these children (now young men) to the United States. Memere, Abital, Jeremiah, and Paul made the list of evacuees.
In real life the 4,000 boys were assigned to cities across the United States where aid workers helped them to settle and find employment or enroll in school. A small irony about their journey, (not depicted in the film) is some were on flights to the United States on 9/11 and were diverted to Canada where they stayed for a few days before safely arriving in Chicago. Not fully understanding the magnitude of this attack on our homeland they wrongly thought they had brought war with them. Thankfully, they soon understood this was not the case.
The second part of the movie takes place in the United States chronically the journey of these resilient four once they arrive at the Chicago airport. The group of four soon found they would no longer be living together. The three boys would continue onto Kansas City but sister Abital was going to Boston as no family stepped up in Kansas City to sponsor her. It was deemed improper to leave the different genders together according to the sponsoring organization’s policy, as depicted in the storyline. (Keep in mind the movie is based on the factual story of “The Lost Boys,” but does not literally follow the actual events of the story.)
Reese Witherspoon makes her first appearance midway through the film as Carrie Davis, who will soon become the family’s angel on Earth. Carrie Davis is a job placement caseworker for recent immigrants who have just arrived in Kansas City. At first, she appears annoyed at the prospect of her “Lost Boys” assignment. However, over time her interest in the Sudanese Refugees intensifies and she develops a friendship with them eventually changing the course of her life and theirs. Her role is definitely that of supporting in this film. She does not overshadow the true story at hand nor does her stardom impede on the acting strength of those playing the primary roles. Witherspoon gives respectful, yet lighthearted relief to otherwise heavy moments through her character’s quick use of humor and clever quips.
Kuoth Wiel’s performance as sister Abital is strong and moving even as she departs for a time from the main storyline only to reenter when finally reunited with her brothers in Kansas City. Perhaps the reason she is able to connect her character so deeply to the heart of the viewer is because in real life, Wiel’s family fled the war in Sudan. Her father lost his life in the violence, and she grew up, herself, in a refugee camp. Finally her family made their way to the United States.
The three actors, Oceng, Duany and Jal, who portray the three brothers, also deliver strong performances deeply connecting with their audience on an emotion level. In several scenes, I was personally moved to tears by the level of hardship and challenge they fought through and chose to overcome.
Not to spoil the remaining elements of the film, I will only say the end is somewhat surprising. As, “The Lost Boys,” through unfathomable circumstances and challenge remained strong in spirit through their unyielding faith in God, unwavering desire to become educated, and hope of finding freedom and opportunity.
Today, these boys, now men, stand tall as beacons of hope, contributing to their communities and families while helping to rebuild their communities in war-torn Sudan. They live by the African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
I give this movie the highest rating. It is a must see for everyone. I left the theater challenged to do more, give more, and open my eyes wider to the needs around me. People suffer every day not just in Africa but here in our communities and on our streets. Too often we walk passed, blind to the needs of others, distracted by our own daily agendas and obligations. Yet, we do have the capacity and resources to help and make a difference. Change comes in society when we each individually recognize our own capacity to reach out and give to one another. By working alone, we may go faster, but by working together we will go farther. Culture is impacted one open hand after another. The Good Lie challenges us all to be better, to do better, to care more deeply and to serve more willingly.
Drama, War, Faith
Cast: Reese Witherspoon: Carrie Davis
Arnold Oceng: Mamere
Kuoth Wiel: Abital
Ger Duany: Jeremiah
Emmanuel Jal: Paul
Okwar Jale: Theo
Corey Stoll: Jack
Director: Phillippe Falardeau
Limited Release: October 3
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence, Thematic Elements, brief strong language and drug use).
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